In the 1990s, smoking was the leading cause of residential and total fire deaths in at least eight countries, including Australia.1 From June 2000 to June 2006, prior to the introduction of Reduced Fire Risk (RFR) cigarette legislation, cigarette-related incidents accounted for 8% of fire-related fatalities in Australia.2 The total economic impact of fires attributed to cigarettes in Australia in 2004/05 was $63.0 million, distributed among households ($16.4 million), businesses ($36.5 million), and the government ($10.2 million).3
Standard cigarettes are manufactured with added ‘burn accelerants’ to ensure that the cigarette will keep on burning once lit.4 Left to ‘idle’ between puffs, a dropped, forgotten or discarded cigarette can start a fire. Tobacco companies have the technology to manufacture reduced fire risk (RFR) cigarettes and are required to do so by law in Canada and in most states of the US. Prior to its introduction in 2010, fire cause investigators and other fire industry leaders in Australia unanimously supported the introduction of regulations to reduce the fire risk of cigarettes.5
In March 2007, Standards Australia announced the release of an Australian ‘standard for reduced fire risk cigarettes’ (a tool by which to measure the self-extinguishing properties of cigarettes), which it said was now ‘available to State and Federal Governments for inclusion in any future legislation requiring cigarette companies to manufacture reduced fire risk cigarettes.’6
The Trade Practices (Consumer Product Safety Standard) (Reduced Fire Risk Cigarettes) Regulations 2008 commenced on 23 September 2008.7, 8 These regulations mandate reduced fire risk standards for all cigarettes, regardless of the date of manufacture or import, from 23 September 2010.
The regulations mandate that all cigarettes sold in Australia adhere to specific fire safety standards. These typically necessitate the use of specialised paper or designs, enabling the cigarette to self-extinguish if not actively smoked. In order to meet this mandatory standard, cigarettes sold in Australia incorporate a concentric band of paper or other material, known as the 'lowered permeability band'. This is integrated into, or applied to, the cigarette paper to inhibit the cigarette's burning process (refer to Figure 12.8.1 in Section 12.8.1 for a diagram illustrating the placement of lowered permeability bands in a cigarette).9 The standard is obligatory for businesses involved in supplying cigarettes, and compliance with the standard involves meeting all requirements for performance, packaging, and marking. Key performance requirements stipulate that at least 75% of tested cigarettes must fail to achieve full length burns. All retail packages must bear the statement ‘AUSTRALIAN FIRE RISK STANDARD COMPLIANT. USE CARE IN DISPOSAL’ in a clearly legible format without obscuring any legally required warnings. If adhesive labels are used, they should be securely fastened to prevent easy removal. This mandatory standard does not apply to loose tobacco and cigars. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is responsible for enforcing these regulations, and as such, significant penalties for non-compliance may be imposed, including financial penalties and mandatory product recalls.10
In November 2010, the European Union issued a standard for RFR cigarettes that member states could begin enforcing from November 2011.11 Following the introduction of RFR laws internationally, multiple studies have reported improvements in fire safety and associated declines in fire-related deaths in the home.12-15
Data from a 2019 Australian report titled 'Preventable Residential Fire Fatalities in Australia July 2003 to June 2017' revealed that even after the introduction of reduced fire risk regulations, there remains a significant over-representation of smokers in residential fire fatalities.16 In instances where the smoking status of the deceased was known, 65.4% were identified as smokers. Where the cause of the fire was known, over a quarter (26.7%) were attributed to smoking materials, with just over one-third of these incidents due to smoking in bed.16 A 2022 analysis of fire incidents in New South Wales between 2005 and 2014 revealed an 8% decrease in total residential fire incidents attributed to smokers' materials after the implementation of RFR regulations in 2010. Following the implementation of RFR regulations, there was also a 12% reduction in the number of residential fires resulting in significant monetary damage (losses exceeding $1000) due to fire and firefighting efforts.17
For further information on RFR including death and injury caused by tobacco caused fires see Chapter 3, Section 3.19.2. Environmental and economic impact is discussed in Chapter 10, Section 10.16.1.2.
Relevant news and research
For recent news items and research on this topic, click here.( Last updated June 2023)
1. Leistikow B, Martin D, and Milano C. Fire injuries, disasters, and costs from cigarettes and cigarette lights: A global overview. Preventative Medicine, 2000; 312(1):91-9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10938207/
2. Hoy M and Morton S. Deaths associated with fires caused by cigarettes. Melbourne: Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, 2006. Available from: http://www.fire.nsw.gov.au/gallery/files/pdf/research/CigDeathsReport_NCIS_3Oct_2006.pdf.
3. Collins D and Lapsley H. The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004-05. P3 2625.Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, 2008. Available from: https://nadk.flinders.edu.au/application/files/3013/8551/1279/Collins__Lapsley_Report.pdf.
4. Product Safety Policy Section. The regulation of reduced fire risk cigarettes under the trade practices Act 1974. 2008.
5. Chapman S and Balmain A. Time to legislate for fire-safe cigarettes in Australia [editorial]. Medical Journal of Australia, 2004; 181:292-3. Available from: http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/181_06_200904/cha10373_fm.html
6. Standards Australia. Standard for reduced fire risk cigarettes released, Standards Australia, Editor 2007: Sydney. Available from: https://www.standards.org.au/standards-catalogue/sa-snz/other/cs-102.
7. Trade practices (consumer product safety standard) (reduced fire risk cigarettes) regulations 2008 Select Legislative Instrument 2008 no. 195; Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2009C00252.
8. McClelland R and Bowen C. Mandatory safety standard for reduced fire risk cigarettes [joint media release by the Hon Robert McClelland MP and the Hon Chris Bowen MP], Office of the Assistant Treasurer, Editor 2008: Canberra. Available from: https://ministers.treasury.gov.au/ministers/chris-bowen-2007/media-releases/mandatory-safety-standard-reduced-fire-risk-cigarettes.
9. Baker RR, Coburn S, Liu C, and McAdams KG. The science behind the development and performance of reduced ignition propensity cigarettes. Fire Science Reviews, 2016; 5:Article number 2. Available from: https://firesciencereviews.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40038-016-0011-4
10. Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. Product safety: Reduced fire risk cigarettes supplier guide. 2010. Available from: https://www.productsafety.gov.au/system/files/Supplier%20guide%20-%20Reduced%20fire%20risk%20cigarettes.pdf
11. European Committee for Standardization. New standard for self-extinguishing cigarettes. 2010. Available from: https://pr.euractiv.com/pr/new-standards-self-extinguishing-cigarettes-91208
12. Saar I. The effects of the lower ignition propensity cigarettes standard in Estonia: Time-series analysis. Injury Prevention, 2017. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28179374
13. Doss N USA: Tobacco fire deaths drop to second-lowest since 1980 on safer cigarettes. 2010. Available from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-21/tobacco-related-u-s-fire-deaths-decline-to-second-lowest-level-since-1980.html
14. Yau R and Marshall S. Association between fire-safe cigarette legislation and residential fire deaths in the United States. Injury Epidemiology, 2014; 1(1):10. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/2197-1714-1-10
15. Alpert HR, Christiani DC, Orav EJ, Dockery DW, and Connolly GN. Effectiveness of the cigarette ignition propensity standard in preventing unintentional residential fires in Massachusetts. American Journal of Public Health, 2014; 104(4):e56-e61. Available from: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301837
16. Coates L, Kaandorp G, Harris J, Van Leeuwen J, Avci A, et al. Preventable residential fire fatalities in Australia July 2003 to June 2017. Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2019. Available from: https://www.bnhcrc.com.au/publications/biblio/bnh-5807.
17. Ghassempour N, Tannous WK, Agho KE, Avsar G, and Harvey LA. The impact of reduced fire risk cigarettes regulation on residential fire incidents, mortality and health service utilisation in New South Wales, Australia. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022; 19(19). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/36231780